Gestalt Debuts Arsenal of Pinball Machines

When I was up in Seattle for a long weekend recently, I inadvertently squandered far too many hours in a flawlessly shitty dive by the name of Shorty's.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, Shorty's has seemed to amass a Zeitgeist-like popularity up there, and for good reason: its walls are lined with arcade games and amusement park oddities, and they have an entire back room dedicated to pinball (15 machines in all). Plus, drinks are priced the way drinks should be priced (cheap) and they serve above gas station-quality hot dogs.  You know, the stuff good bars are made of.

So when I say I “squandered” too many hours there, that's not to say that Shorty's wasn't worth the time, because it most certainly was and is.  But it was my first time ever in Seattle and I had planned on seeing as much as I could, not blowing the better part of a Friday night feeding quarters to decades-old machines in the mixed company of yuppies and drug addicts.  So when I went to cash my second ten dollar bill in for quarters, I couldn't help but feel my attraction to this place was less about what Shorty's does well, but more about what San Francisco doesn't do at all.

For all the things we get right, our bars have become awfully dull and monotonous.  The industry spends so much time differentiating between cocktail menus and light fixtures that bar owners seemed to forget how to make their places fun.  Besides ordering sillypants drinks like a “gently bound”, we're lucky if a bar has anything besides a single pool table/pinball machine, (internet) jukebox, and an occasionally functional ATM.  Darts?  Hardly.  Events? Rarely. Mini-golf course?  Forget it.

So as that Friday night in Shorty's grew old and my index fingers tired, I got the most serendipitously perfect text from my friend Erika: the above photo with the message, “Gestalt debuted an arsenal of pinball machines. 5 total.”

Fuck. Yes.

Now, obviously, Gestalt isn't Shorty's.  At least not yet.  But, they sell cheap beer and sausages, which is basically an upscale take on the hot dog, and are making a legitimate attempt to open a mini-arcade in a bar.  Plus, all their equipment actually works, which is more rare than you'd think in this town.

As the bartender told me on my third visit in two weeks, “We're hoping Gestalt becomes a place people come to play games.”  Then he got someone to cover the bar so he could indulge in a round on Funhouse.

So far, the response to the shift has been so strong that they're already looking for more games to fill the place with.  And let's hope it keeps that way, if only so the next time I'm in Seattle I can stand in line for 2 hours at the first ever Starbucks or something.

Tamale Lady Jokes and Mission Trivia

Ignoring how incredibly sad it is they had to cross out the “Cold Beer” part of Cold Beer Cold Water's name, these Mission Trivia kids have me totally hooked in and I'm fiending to know how this joke ends.  Also, what is Mission Trivia exactly?  They promise neighborhood-centric categories like “A Park Called Dolores”, “Hipster or Homeless”, “Startups and Shutdowns”, and “Local Celebrities”, but that isn't particularly telling.  Are they asking easy ones like, “what's the name of the lunatic sloppily singing homophobic love songs outside the Social Security Building on Valencia?” (A: “Omer”, also acceptable: “Bum Jovi”), or is it a bit more challenging… say, “what's the chorus of the birthday song Omer sings?” (A: “blargh blarh argh largh BLARGH ba ba bahhhhh HAPPPPP-IEEEEE BURTHDAY”, also acceptable: “indiscernible”)?

Anyway, I guess we're all going to have to pile into Gestalt Monday night and find out.

[Photo by Eddie Codel]

Vag Rabbit

I don't know, man.  I've spent a couple of evenings examining vaginas, and this is no vagina.  It doesn't look much like a rabbit, for that matter.  Maybe some dude with hairy palms flashing a peace sign.  Or an upside down portrait of Kang and Kodos.  Hell, I'd even entertain this being an inverted gingerbread man grabbing his junk.  But a vag rabbit?  Naw, man.  No fucking way.

SRO Tenants Leave Gestalt Haus Under Water

Gestalt's water-soaked pool table (GET IT? POOL TABLE) as seen late on Wednesday, November 30th, after a crazyperson pulled the fire alarm.

Known for its bike-friendly attitude and an extensive selection of German beer on tap, the Mission’s Gestalt Haus is a popular hub along 16th Street. The work of local artists decks the warm, red walls and a high-end sound system is often set at a low decibel, allowing conversations to unfold amid the clinking of liter mugs and the clacking of always-in-use pool cues.  

Such was the scene as midnight hit on a recent Tuesday: Patrons lined the bar, sausages sizzled, and an iPhone manned the deejay booth. Then, *bam* The vibe went from chill to shrill, shattered by the piercing shriek of the fire alarm and soaked with streams of water from the sprinkler system. As soggy drunks scrambled outside and SFFD sirens drew near, owner Dan Hawkins got the heads-up call. It’s one to which he has become rather accustomed; in fact, the exact same thing occurred a week prior, triggered by a false alarm set off on the building’s second floor. (The latest kerfuffle was brought to Gestalt by a waste-bin fire in the boiler room.) “This is the tenth time this has happened,” he tells me. “It’s those fucking crackheads again.”  

Hawkins is referring to city-supported inhabitants of the Sixteenth Street Hotel, which sits above Gestalt and does indeed house an array of mentally ill, alcohol-dependent and, yes, often crack-addicted tenants – courtesy of San Francisco’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and federal mandate. It is one of 50 single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Mission District, which account for a significant portion of more than 3,500 “supportive housing” units throughout the city as part of the Newsom-era “Care Not Cash” program. One of the more controversial aspects of The Gav’s teetotaling local legacy, it cuts participants’ monthly welfare checks from $422 to $59 in exchange for providing shelter and other services.  

While the chronic Poors under city “Care” no longer have the cash for, say, a bottle of Newsom’s PlumpJack Cab’, the money saved ostensibly funds affordable-housing requirements. Critics, however, say the program’s success is essentially defined by the number of rooms available, not the ongoing stability of the Section-8 tenants therein or the improvement of their quality of life (from the lady taking her pants off in front of a crowded sidewalk cafe, to the dude raging on an unfortunate newspaper stand, tenants of these city-run SROs aren’t exactly under “managed care.”)

Firefighters outside of Gestalt, dealing with the aftermath caused by the errant fire alarms.

Perhaps no business owner outside of the Tenderloin is more aware of the “Care” deficiency than Hawkins. One of Sixteenth Street Hotel’s more prominent female tenants is a sporadic regular of sorts in Gestalt–that is, when she’s not sprawled out front yelling at onlookers or calling for an ambulance (yeah, that lady). “She’ll come in throughout the week, drunk, sometimes covered in shit, and try to take someone’s beer or just be a nuisance in general,” says Hawkins, who has tried tracking down her social-worker himself, to no avail.

But he, like many of us, is pretty used to encountering crazy, sometimes cracked-out peeps shuffling along city streets (it’s part of San Francisco’s unique, urine-scented charm, no?) The regular triggering of his building’s fire alarm and sprinkler system during business hours, however, is another story. “Between all the water damage, replacing electronic equipment, furniture, and–mainly–the lost income from having to shut down and clean the place, it’s cost me tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket–easily,” he muses.  

But while the oft-beleaguered business owner can rather calmly tick off various incidents over the years (the drunk-in-an-overflowing-bathtub snafu that brought down half of Gestalt’s ceiling on Cinco de Mayo ’08, the dude who fell asleep with a cigarette in hand and ignited his bed, trash thrown from windows catastrophically clogging the rain gutter…), what actually gets a rise out of him is pondering tax dollars pissed away on the constant SFFD and EMT resources needed to quell his upstairs neighbor’s constant shenanigans: “It’s unreal. I see so much time and money and manpower wasted–and that’s just on this block. The sad thing is that a lot of this crap could be avoided if the city was actually doing its job and providing the proper resources for these people. It is bullshit, man; total bullshit.” 

As if on cue, our conversation is cut off by the siren of an approaching ambulance, and–I kid you not–it stops right in front of Gestalt. Hawkins stands up and looks at me knowingly. “I’m telling you, this shit was not in the brochure.” With a half-smile/half-grimace on his face, he shakes his head and starts to head back behind the bar. “You want a beer?”

BIG NEWS in Getting Drunk and Playing With Plastic Guns

If you're having trouble deciphering what is going on in professional photograph above, I'll help you out.  The drunken graffiti factory that is Gestalt Haus got a NEW BIG BUCK HUNTER MACHINE.  Sure, their old machine alright, but the new one allows you to hunt all new endangered animals like Giraffes, Rhinos, and various monkeys.  Best of all, they taped a rag to the machine so you can punch the shit out of it when your frustration manifests itself into physical violence.  Sadly, the machine is still expensive enough to make you broke if you play it too much, but you can still get bargain drunk on Gestalt's $2 Tecates and put back their above-average veggie sandwiches.

Gestalt Haus Stepping It Up

A while ago, I sort of fell out of love with Gestalt Haus.  Don't get it twisted: Murph is still peaced out, their supply of sauerkraut remains sketchy, the DJ booth still awkwardly switches from LL Cool J to Joy Division, they are less apt to pour beers in liters, and the old bike rack location remain some awkward lounge area.  But, damn, their bathroom snowmen are fucking tops and they are now one of the rare places in San Francisco that has Big Buck Hunter.  Believe you me, anyone who has ever lived in a town of with more dogs than people is truly baffled by the lack of a solid hunting games in San Francisco.  Nothing say “Friday Night” like paying $2.50 to 'bust shots' into big horn sheep while guzzling lackluster American Light beer for two bucks.  It's a great way to work out some of that vegetarian angst.

Also, who doesn't love staring at a giant dog while pissing?